College! For many, leaving home for the first time to attend university is an exciting time, full of promise. As you get ready for school, or as you prepare your child to start a new chapter of his or her life, it is important to remember some of the basics.
Here are 5 smart money moves for college freshmen:
1. Get a Job
It doesn’t need to be a full-time job. It doesn’t even need to be off-campus. Many colleges hold hiring fairs one or two days before school starts so that students can see what’s available on campus. I worked part-time in the college cafeteria for two years, before getting a job as a resident advisor. A part-time job on campus is usually manageable, and many students benefit from working at least a little bit. The extra income comes in handy.
2. Create a Plan
Everyone needs a plan for their money. Look at all of your sources of income for the semester: Student loans, scholarships, part-time job, and side hustle. Look at your expenses. If you live in student housing of some kind, your rent is likely paid at the beginning of each semester. Figure out which expenses come weekly, monthly, and semesterly. Make a plan for your money that allows you to cover your expenses, and start saving for the future. Plan large purchases, and create a “fun” fund so that you aren’t going into debt for a good time.
3. Open Your Own Bank Account
While a joint account with mom or dad is still OK for when you run into an emergency, you should also start establishing your own separate financial life. Open a bank account at a local branch (or online). You can usually get a student account that comes fee-free. You might also look at a local credit union. There might even be one associated with your school.
4. Start Building Your Credit
Your freshman year is a good time to start building credit. Admittedly, I got out of control with this one, racking up debt with credit credit cards. However, you can do it the smart way. Get a small loan from your bank for books, and then pay it off quickly with money you saved up. You can also get a credit card. If you have a part-time job, you might not need a co-signer, even if you aren’t 21. If you don’t have a job, and you aren’t 21, chances are that your parents will need to co-sign with you on the card.
Use your credit card wisely, making purchases that you can pay back at the end of the month. Don’t carry a balance. If you don’t trust yourself with a credit card, look for other ways to build your credit. Remember, too, that student loans are debt, and you should borrow as little as possible.
5. Open a Retirement Account
Your part-time on campus job probably won’t offer you access to a 401(k). But that’s no biggie; you can open an IRA, and start putting your money there. Part of your plan should be to prepare for the future. The earlier you start putting money into a retirement account, the more you will have when you are ready to retire. Compound interest can be a real help.
With the right preparation as a freshman, you can get through college with minimal debt, and even be a little ahead of the game when you graduate.